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LU Re-Opens Stadium in Record-Setting Style
It took an extra month to complete, but the record-setting crowd that saw Liberty roll to a 52-14 victory over visiting Savannah State inside of a renovated Williams Stadium Saturday evening saw quite a show, both on and off the field.
During the last nine months, Williams Stadium, Liberty's on-campus football facility since 1989, underwent a major renovation. The stadium received additional seating, expanding the seating to 19,200, while adding a five-story press box with 18 luxury suites and an 11,000-square foot Flames Club Pavilion room.
The victory, which moved Liberty to 3-2 on the season and ended a two-game slide for the Flames, was played in front of 19,314 fans. The previous attendance record was 16,112 for last year's home opener against North Carolina Central on Sept. 12.
A burst of excitement helped the Flames quickly jump out to a lead, almost from the first time Liberty touched the football. The Flames won the opening coin toss and elected to receive.
Danny Broggin took the opening kickoff the length of the field, returning Derek Williams' kick for what the record-setting crowd thought was an 88-yard return for a score. But half the yardage on the play was negated following a personal foul.
However, it didn't take long for Liberty to score. Following two 10-plus yard pass plays from Mike Brown to Pat Kelly and Chris Summers, Brown called his own number and scored from 18 yards out to provide Liberty's first score of the evening.
Liberty forced Savannah State to punt the ball away and B.J. Hayes gave Liberty great field position, following a 45-yard punt return.
Four plays later, Brown lofted a ball into the near corner of the end zone and junior Summers hauled in his first score of the night on a nine-yard pass play to give the Flames a 14-0 edge.
Liberty forced a three-and-out series on the next drive, but Mike Larsson's punt was blocked by Rashaud Ferrell, who then returned the loose ball 22 yards for a score. The 22-yard return was the first opponent blocked punt returned for a score since Lafayette did so on Oct. 18, 2008.
But momentum did not remain on the Tigers' side for long, as a pair of 30-yard plays pushed Liberty's lead to 21-7 with 4:27 left in the first quarter.
Two plays after SirChauncey Holloway took a handoff 32 yards, his longest run of the season, Brown hooked up with Summers again. The quick three-play, 62-yard drive was finished off when Summers leaped up to pull in a 30-yard touchdown reception.
The score remained the same until midway through the second quarter, when Liberty kept the ball on the ground seven times during a nine-play, 73-yard drive. However, the last play saw Liberty take to the air again, as Brown found a wide-open Matthias Wrede for his first career reception. The four-yard scoring strike at 9:59 pushed Liberty's lead to 28-7.
Liberty almost added its fourth passing touchdown of the first half eight minutes later, when Brown found Ervin Garner deep downfield. But the 45-yard pass was just a bit underthrown and the junior had to come back for the reception and was tackled at the two-yard line.
Two plays later, SirChauncey Holloway found a hole open on the right side of the line, scoring from two yards out to give Liberty a 35-7 margin with 1:54 left to play in the period.
Both teams tried to tack on additional points during the final two minutes of the half, but both squads missed field goals. Williams' 44-yard attempt fell well short of the goal posts, while Matt Bevins' 38 yarder as time expired missed wide to the right.
Liberty nearly tripled Savannah State's total offensive production during the opening 30 minutes of play. The Flames finished with 350 yards of total offense on 35 plays, while Savannah State posted 123 yards on 30 plays.
Brown was Liberty's top offensive weapon, as the junior completed 12-of-16 pass attempts for 216 yards and three touchdowns. Six of his 12 completions were to Summers, who tallied 106 yards and two scores during the opening 30 minutes.
On the ground, Holloway rushed for 77 yards and a score on 10 carries, followed by Brown's six carries for 54 yards and the team's other rushing touchdown.
Big plays continued to be the theme of the second half, as all three touchdowns scored came during plays that resulted in 10 or more yards.
The first three of Liberty's 17 second-half points came on a 27-yard field goal by Bevins with 7:31 left in the third quarter, completing an eight-play, 78-yard scoring drive.
The Tigers quickly answered back on three big plays. The first of the trio was a 15-yard pass by Antonio Bostick to Alakan Thomas, followed by a 22-yard run by Sheldon Barnes, thanks to a hole opened on the right side of the line.
The next play, Bostick, who entered the game as Savannah State's back-up quarterback, completed a 32-yard flea-flicker play to an open Brian Lackey in the end zone to trim Liberty's lead back to 38-14 with 6:16 left to play.
But that would be as close as the Tigers would get, as Liberty would tack on two fourth-quarter touchdowns to complete the evening.
Tyler Brennan completed a nine-play, 76-yard scoring drive on Liberty's first possession of the fourth quarter by finding Summers open for his third touchdown pass of the night. The 17-yard strike came with 8:51 left in the football game.
After a three-and-out series forced the Tigers to punt the ball away, back-to-back bursts by Chase Barnett allowed Liberty to post its ninth 50-point game under head coach Danny Rocco. The second run was a 24-yard scamper for Barnett, his first collegiate rushing touchdown, giving Liberty its final score of the night.
Liberty finished the game with 564 total offensive yards, the team's second-highest offensive output of the year.
For the first time this season, the Flames' rushing numbers surpassed their passing totals. Liberty finished with 288 rushing yards on 37 carries, while posting 276 passing yards on 18 completions. Savannah State finished the game with 304 total offensive yards.
Brown only completed two additional passes during the second half, finishing the contest with 231 passing yards on 14-of-19 completions and three touchdowns.
Brown has now passed for 200 or more yards in five-straight games, leaving him one shy of the school record (Robby Justino  and Brock Smith [2007-08] had six-straight games with 200 or more passing yards.)
Holloway became the 31st player in program history to post a 100-yard rushing contest, as the sophomore finished the game with a career-high 140 yards on 16 carries. Barnett finished behind him with 56 yards on eight rushing attempts and a score.
Summers posted his third 100-yard game of the season, finishing with 132 yards on eight receptions. The junior also posted three touchdown receptions, giving him eight on the season, which leads all FCS receivers in the country.
Kevin Fogg, Kyle O'Donnell and Doncel Bolt each finished the game with seven stops, led by Fogg's career-best five solo tackles.
Liberty will conclude a brief two-game homestand next weekend, when the Flames welcome Charleston Southern to Williams Stadium for the Homecoming game. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m., and the contest will begin Liberty's quest for a fourth-straight Big South Conference title.